The omnibus bill required 12 votes to approve defence spending for 2021 and a long-anticipated Covid relief stimulus package for Americans.
US House of Representative leaders released the 5,593-page text of a Covid-19 stimulus package hours before a midnight government budget deadline. The bill has raised controversy over the relatively small stimulus payment it grants Americans, relative to eyebrow raising hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for Israel and other countries.
The huge bipartisan legislation is one of the largest bills the US Congress has ever drafted. The bill will likely pass unimpeded after months of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.
The bill provides a $600 stimulus check for most Americans, another $600 per child, a $300 weekly supplement for unemployed individuals, and a total of $284.4 billion in forgivable small-business Paycheck Protection Program loans.
Israel, however, may be walking away with a significant slice of the pie. For many Americans, this is frustrating. One Twitter user took to sharing quick maths because something didn’t add up.
“$600 x 328 million = $196.8 billion. This bill is for $900 billion. Guess who’s getting that other $700+ billion?” they tweeted.
Even US President Donald Trump criticised the bill, calling it a disgrace, while calling on Congress to increase the stimulus payment from $600 to $2000.
"I'm also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items in this legislation or to send me a suitable bill," he said in a video released on twitter.
But the spending package actually combines twelve different bills between two different votes. The Covid-19 relief bill, which had its own vote, was worth $900 billion. In total, the house approved $2.3 trillion in spending and relief between two votes that included the 2021 Pentagon Spending bill. $900 billion was specifically dedicated to Covid relief.
The answer to who’s getting paid is buried deep in the near-6000 page document. One segment, however, reads: "$500,000,000 shall be for the Israeli Cooperative 6 Programs." A large portion of that is dedicated to missile defense systems.
This triggered outrage on social media, with “$500,000,000 for Israel” trending worldwide.
The half a billion payment is part of a 2016 agreement signed during the Obama administration that will continue until 2026, and provide a total of $38 billion in military aid to Israel. Part of the deal was an agreement that Israel would not ask for more money for missile defense systems during the 10 year period.
Moreover, the agreement gradually repeals Israel’s right to spend 26 percent of US aid on Israeli defence firms, which was critical to building its military industrial complex. A restriction forcing Israel to spend 14 percent of aid on buying fuel for its military was also repealed, among a host of other compromises giving Israel more freedom to spend US aid however it wanted.
But even among the US House of Representatives, this wasn’t a popular decision. The Democrat version of the bill put aside $225 million for humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, with the option that the funding could be directed to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
After passing through a Republican majority senate, the final bill saw that amount reduced by $150 million to only $75 million, with no appropriations for UNRWA funding.
In what many find deeply ironic, the Covid-19 relief bill earmarks $250 million to be split over 5 years towards promoting cooperation between Israel and Palestine, after contributing towards Israeli armament with double the amount.
The bill saw widespread approval from all major Jewish American lobby groups in the United States, including AIPAC, J Street, the Anti-Defamation League, Americans for Peace Now, Jewish Federations of North America, and the American Jewish Committee.
Among other appropriations, the bill puts aside $1.4 billion for President Donald Trump's southern border wall, and increases military spending by 3 percent.
Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that House Representatives received the 5000 plus document to read only hours before the vote.
"It's not good enough to hear about what's in the bill. Members of Congress need to see & read the bills we are expected to vote on," she said.
"I know it's 'controversial' & I get in trouble for sharing things like this, but the people of this country deserve to know. They deserve better."
After Trump’s request for amendment, the bill’s future is uncertain. The current draft required months of negotiations, and concerns are rife that amendments would further delay the much needed relief spending.
Trump’s comments risk a government shutdown, which was narrowly avoided on Monday, December 21 after Senate and House leaders passed a temporary delaying motion.